Student proposes additional $1 student fee for bicycle-related planning

By Megan Jones

As he walks around the Campus Bicycle Shop directing students who are diligently fixing their bikes, manager James Roedl continues to hear common themes among students’ conversations: There are problems with the bike infrastructure on campus, ranging from crashing into pedestrians to not being able to find an available bike rack.

For these reasons, Grace Kyung, graduate student, has submitted a referendum question to establish a $1 student fee each semester dedicated to bicycle-related projects, including paving and painting bike lanes and paths, creating a bicycle rental program, funding the Campus Bicycle Shop, expanding bicycle parking, hiring a bicycle coordinator and creating educational materials.

Kyung noted in an email that University students may only sign the petition once, which bars students who have already signed it on paper from signing it online again.

“This is me working toward showing the University that students really do care about this initiative and these projects,” Kyung said. “It’s something we want the University to start paying attention to because we, as students, want to see something change.”

If students vote on the spring 2014 referendum to pass the bike fee, student initiated fees will rise from $66 to $67 per semester. The fee would bring in approximately $80,000 a year, said Morgan Johnston, associate director of sustainability for Facilities and Services.

“It’s helpful to know whether or not the students support improvements in making us a more bicycle-friendly university,” Johnston said. “The results of the vote will definitely have an impact on how much campus funding we can obtain.”

Facilities and Services’ Transport Demand Management department drafted a “2013 Campus Bike Plan,” which contains more than $4 million worth of project ideas. However, no funds exist specifically for bicycle-related planning, Johnston said.

Bicycle-related planning currently falls under the budget category of Transport Demand Management, and the department struggles every time an allocation for funds arises, as they do not know who will pay for the repairs, said Illinois student senator and senior in FAA David Mischiu in an earlier interview. In December, Mischiu sponsored a fund allocation of $6,000 to Facilities and Services to repaint campus bike paths, which the senate passed.

“It’s really not enough to even keep our streets painted and our traffic signs running,” Johnston said. “It doesn’t really allow for more, but we are asking for more support and direct funding from the campus.”

Calvin Lear, graduate student and student member of the Urbana-Champaign Senate Executive Committee, added that the State of Illinois currently owes the University hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure-related funds and that bike lanes will not be a high priority on the University’s agenda.

“We are about to have our Wi-Fi collapse, some of our buildings are about to fall apart and we continue to have expansions to (University) housing. We’ve had to take out loans as quickly as possible because our credit rate is plunging,” Lear said. “While I don’t like the idea of adding more student fees, because I think it is way too high as it is, this is a pretty good quality of life project.”

The Campus Bicycle Shop, which has been funded over the last three years by Facilities and Services and the Student Sustainability Committee, will lose its funding in June because the Student Sustainability Committee will only fund new projects. The shop serves as a “do-it-yourself” bike shop where students are given the tools, space and knowledge to fix their bikes, Roedl said. Five students are employed by the Campus Bicycle Shop, while many also work as volunteers.

The Campus Recreation Advisory Committee is currently looking into creating a bicycle rental program, which is a project Kyung hopes the student fee will help fund.

The Illinois Student Senate passed a resolution at its Feb. 12 meeting to lower the number of signatures needed for the question to appear among the referenda. Mitch Dickey, ISS member and sophomore in LAS, worked with Kyung on gaining ISS support. Many senators expressed concerns on raising student fees higher; however, the question lies in the voters’ hands.

From 2007 to 2011, student bicycle use rose from 9 percent to 12 percent, while rates of students walking and riding the bus remained the same, according to information gathered by Facilities and Services. Employee bicycle use rose from 4 percent to 18 percent.

BikeFace, a registered student organization that acts as a liaison between students and the Champaign-Urbana bicycle community, has been collecting signatures to add the fee question to the Spring 2014 referendum.

So far, 1,200 signatures have been collected and BikeFace has until Feb. 25 to reach 2,330. If passed, the fee will be reviewed by the Student Fee Advisory Committee.

Nick Cohen, sophomore in Business and BikeFace member, said bikes are an incredibly empowering way for students to travel because it opens options and driving a car can be expensive for students.

“While MTD is great, they just need to get there faster on their own schedule,” Roedl said. “For them, it’s as important as a car. A lot of students are also international students so they don’t own a car in America, or some are on a budget and gas is expensive.”

The first bicycle paths at the University were created in the 1960s; Dhara Patel, freshman in Engineering, believes that the paths are not designed as well as they could be, as some were later added to sidewalks, which could lead to accidents. Johnston said new national standards exist regarding bicycle path design, but the University’s paths do not comply with these standards.

The League of American Bicyclists deemed the University’s campus as “bicycle-friendly” at a bronze level, and Johnston believes this fee could help the University reach a silver or gold level.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done, from the pathways to the parking,” Johnston said. “We’re doing as much as we can, but there’s just not a lot of funding. Grace working on a vote for a student fee (is) one of the many things we are doing to become more bicycle friendly.”

Megan can be reached at [email protected] and @meganash_jones.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Student Sustainability Committee only funds new projects. The Campus Bicycle Shop’s grant only lasts for two years, which is why it will lose funding in June. The Daily Illini regrets this error.